CAT Teams Do It Best
Updated: May 11
Empowering your employees to make their own decisions is the driver that allows your company to evolve and survive. There is something magical about the performance of effective teams—the way the members come together, align their talents and put aside their differences, and then almost flawlessly execute to achieve a goal. What is clearly apparent is a sense of urgency – an urgency that is self-driven by an impassioned pursuit of something that matters. There also is a critical awareness within the team that persuades members to put aside their individual differences in order to achieve a success bigger than any of them singly. Effective teams, no matter their objectives, all share three vital and distinct characteristics: they are committed, aggressive, and targeted (CAT).
There is no debate among business experts that effective teamwork delivers far superior performance than the collective, but disjointed, efforts of individuals. Teamwork, when properly directed and executed, can become a phenomenal competitive advantage, offering the potential to catapult organizations to new heights of performance.
Sadly, but also standing without debate, is the premise that although Leaders desperately need effective, game-changing teams, few have been able to consistently create them. What prevents leadership or an organization from building effective teams is, quite simply, a lack of understanding of the basic building blocks of all teams.
The DNA of Effective Teams
Commitment is the process that turns a collection of individuals into something more powerful than just the grouping of talent. It is analogous to combining cement, sand, stone, and water to create concrete – a material that is superior in its physical properties to any of its ingredients. Commitment is the measure of gestalt, the coming together of individuals to create a team that is superior to any of its constituents.
What drives commitment is the desire of the individuals to achieve a goal that they cannot achieve singly. But what sustains commitment is the candor, respect, and trust that the team members develop through their face-to-face interactions as they wrestle with the intellectual conflicts necessary to generate the best solution to a problem.
Aggressiveness is the measure of desire; how badly an individual really wants to achieve a specific goal. Aggressive pursuit of a goal is comparable to how badly one gasps for air after being held underwater for a minute.
Aggressiveness is proportional to the perceived importance and scope of the objective under pursuit. Individual members engage in an aggressive pursuit because they want it, not because they need it. Consequently, they frequently become so immersed in the pursuit that they lose sight of time and space.
To an outsider, the team members appear to be making unwarranted sacrifices of personal time and energy. But to the team member infatuated with reaching the goal, the “sacrifices” are nothing more than a means to achieving the end. Although a single individual might be able to achieve the same results over a lengthened time span, time is highly compressed when working in teams, and results are achieved in a fraction of the time. Targeting is the measure of clarity and exactness of the objective; how clearly the objective is defined and how exact is the definition of a “win” or “loss.”
“Workflow” is the experience of losing all sense of time by fully immersing oneself in a work activity. It’s that sense of, “It’s already 5 o’clock! Where did the time go?” When we have clearly defined goals coupled with a strong passion and fulfillment for the work we do, this happens.
Within a group, it is a natural tendency for members to diverge, each pursuing a solution based on their distinct areas of expertise, experience, or even intuition. The effect of targeting is to corral the thinking such that fewer blind alleys are pursued, their being closed off by knowledge or experience available from others within the group.
A Different Story
Theoretically, creating teams seems simple enough, but a closer look into the actual practice tells a different story. The most common teams found in organizations are the intact teams. Examples could include the executive team, the product development department, or a sales team. Intact teams are typically functional by nature and focused on long-term goals.
The other type of team found in organizations is the “ad hoc team,” assembled solely to solve a specific problem within a confined time frame. Once the ad hoc team has completed its mission, it is dissolved, and its members return to their respective departments and individual roles. Examples could include something as monumental as the Manhattan Project or as mundane as planning a sales meeting.
What so few Leaders realize is that the ingredients for success are largely the same no matter the type of team. Pick the right people, make sure they share your enthusiasm for the objectives, and give them the benefit of having well-defined parameters for success. Look for the measures of commitment, aggressiveness, and targeting in all of your teams.
Criteria for Team Composition
There are four criteria to be considered when forming a team. Since it is people that make the difference, the “make-it or break-it” of success, is critically important to understand how to select people for a given team.
Significance of the challenge: Is the challenge to be solved something truly monumental in scope, or is it something far more practical or even mundane? The more significant the challenge, the greater the emphasis needs to be on intellect and expertise. Conversely, do not bore extraordinary individuals with the ordinary. People must be compatible with the tasks required to solve the challenge.
Number of unknowns: Are we building a new office building or are we building a habitat on Mars? The first is a rather ordinary undertaking, having been done countless times before, to the point of few surprises (deterministic). The extra-terrestrial objective, however, would be truly groundbreaking, facing many unknowns (non-deterministic).
Time frame: How critical is time in solving the problem? The shorter the timeline, the greater the need for a larger team. In such instances, communication among team members must be rapid, concise, and easily comprehended. Select individuals – or, better yet, groups of individuals – who demonstrate excellent interpersonal and language skills as well as the mental agility to quickly absorb, update and act on new information. When time is of the essence, the last thing you need is someone who tells you how to build a clock.
Resource Availability: Do you have the resources needed? The fewer the resources, the harder the job is going to be, and consequently, the greater the need for highly resourceful, independent, and pragmatic members. When you are short on resources, you need to be long on creativity.
While it is easy to see how the criteria apply to ad hoc teams, it is vital that the same criteria be applied to intact teams. Most importantly, leadership needs to regularly assess their executive team. Whether you are planning a three-legged race for a company picnic or designing a racecar, you will get the best results, in the shortest period of time, with the least cost if your teams are committed, aggressive, and targeted. CATs do it best.